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Fayette County

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By Carolyn Heinsohn

It is a known fact that most families were larger in the earlier days when an agrarian lifestyle deemed it necessary to have as many helping hands as possible on the family farm. Utilizing family members to help maintain the farm was financially more practical than hiring farmhands, so large families were quite common. It was also a time when the needs of children were predominantly very simple - food, clothing and housing. Since most of the food consumed by rural families was grown on their farms, and the family's clothing, which was minimal for each person, was handmade, there was very little expense involved in rearing children. Also, most leisure-type activities of that era utilized simple, handcrafted items that were not purchased. Few children advanced beyond the eighth grade, so monies were generally not needed for secondary educations. Therefore, large families were not considered to be a burden or especially unique.

However, there were two families with roots in Fayette County who must have set some kind of records. The parents could have won awards for being "Prolific Progenitors", due to their sheer numbers of offspring. The first, which was described in the Weimar Mercury on July 8, 1893, was the family of Mose Williams, a black man who lived approximately five miles east of Fayetteville, Texas. Mr. Williams, who was 63 years old at that time, had been married twice. He and his first wife had three boys and twenty girls. After her death, most probably from absolute exhaustion, he fathered two additional boys and twenty more girls with his second wife, for a total of forty-five children. His youngest child was five years old. That was quite an accomplishment for one man, but even more so for his wives, who must have been perpetually "with child". One wonders where the children slept at night - hanging on coat hooks? Meals must have been eaten in shifts and heaven help the poor soul who REALLY needed to visit the outhouse. That facility must have been used by appointment only! Maybe it was a "multi-holer" - forget privacy!

The second couple, Frank and Lizzie Shaw Carter, were both born and reared in La Grange, where they were married. They moved to Oklahoma in 1901 at the opening of the territory, where eventually Mr. Carter became a deputy sheriff in Lawton. The June 18, 1904 issue of the Weimar Mercury reported that the Carters, who had been married for eighteen years, had twenty-three children: fifteen boys and eight girls. Immediately, one begins to compute how twenty-three children were produced in eighteen years. Then the article revealed that they had seven sets of twins, which was remarkable, considering the fact that most twins are born prematurely and have a lower birth weight, and that this was before the time of medical technology and the expertise now utilized in caring for premature infants. Mrs. Carter not only deserved accolades for sixteen pregnancies during eighteen years of marriage, but also for being able to care for two babies at a time with a house full of additional children, some of whom weren't even out of diapers. One can just imagine washday!

It was further related that seventeen of their children had the measles at the same time. In order to supply them with water during their feverish stage, a hose was attached to a faucet and passed from one child to another, so that the parents would not have to be disturbed. It was also "a little trying on their nervous system when these twenty-three children all had the whooping cough at one time, and each was trying its best to whoop louder and longer than all the rest."

The family resided in a five-room house, and because of the number of children, arrangements had to be made for sleeping and eating. In one room, all the boys piled crossways into a very large bed at night. The same arrangements were made in another room for the girls, although there was a little more room to turn over since there were only half as many occupying the bed. It was impossible to get a table that would fit in the house and at the same time seat all of the children, but there was no "second table". Instead the children drew lots each week to determine which ones would have seats at the table. The remainder would have to stand up to eat or sit out on the porch, depending upon the weather. Since the Carters did not live on a farm where food could be grown, it was probably quite difficult for Mr. Carter to financially provide for his family. The newspaper article stated that some of the boys were old enough to work a little for themselves, which was a great assistance.

Looking at those numbers, it no longer seems quite so overwhelming to be rearing our much smaller families. Also, most of the children today would never consider sharing one bed, much less one room, with as many as fourteen siblings, or drawing lots for table space. There would be anarchy on the home front and "parent-child divorces"!

© Carolyn Heinsohn
March 22, 2017 Guest column

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